Josef Newgarden, the mathematical underdog for the championship, earned pole for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, setting himself up to earn maximum points to give him a shot at a title.
In the past two races, Newgarden has struggled in qualifying, starting those races sixteenth and seventeenth, but now puts himself in the best position to capitalize on the controversial rulings that see his title rivals Alex Palou and Patricio O’Ward outside of the fast six in tenth and eighth respectively.
In the second round of qualifying, the Fast Twelve, a local yellow was thrown for Will Power, who dealt with a shifting issue and stopped on track. Palou and O’Ward slowed down as per the rules of the local yellow, but were bumped down the order by Felix Rosenqvist, James Hinchcliffe and Ed Jones, who all improved on their final laps knocking the title contenders out of the next round.
Both camps wanted there to be penalties for the trio for failing to slow down for the yellow flags, and so the teams waited for nearly 20 minutes awaiting an official ruling. After much deliberation, only Jones was penalized, and neither contender made it through. Only Rosenqvist was in a position to advance and was able to having not been penalized.
While Palou might not have had a shot to advance, being behind O’Ward as it stood, the Arrow McLaren SP camp was not happy with the decision, with AMSP President Taylor Kiel even stating that his own driver Rosenqvist should not have made it through according to the team’s own telemetry.
O’Ward himself was very disappointed at IndyCar’s decision making that might have cost him a shot at the title.
“IndyCar is never consistent with their calls,” O’Ward said as the final round of qualifying was underway. “They need to review that because we should be in the fast six right now.”
Palou, on the other hand, was not as worried.
“[We’ll] just focus on ourselves, try to do the best we can tomorrow.” he said post-elimination. “If we do a good job we’ll get the championship home, otherwise we can not really focus on what other cars are doing.”
Alongside Newgarden will be Scott Dixon on the front row, with the two title rivals from the 2020 season set to duel once more. Behind them were the surprise duo of Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, who will start third and fourth respectively.
Fifth was Rosenqvist, continuing his momentum from the earlier practice session, alongside Grosjean in sixth. The Swiss-born Frenchman has a significant starting advantage now over Scott McLaughlin, who he is fighting for the Rookie of the Year title. McLauglin was eliminated as a part of the supergroup Group 1 in the first round of qualifying and starts thirteenth.
Hinchcliffe will start seventh having not been penalized, alongside O’Ward to make up row four. Palou will be joined on row five by Jones, who will start ninth.
Despite being wrapped up in the controversy of the day, Power’s journey to starting twelfth is one worth telling. In the first round of qualifying, Power made heavy contact in turn eight with Jack Harvey, who crashed into the tyre barrier. Power’s suspension and rear wing sustained heavy damage, and the team went right to work to get the car together.
They were able to put his car together in time to get him out for a run in round two, but unfortunately we know how it ended from there. Regardless, Team Penske deserves a round of applause for their efforts on repairing the car.
Two other notable omissions from the top of the field are the Andretti Autosport teammates of Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. Rossi failed to advance out of the Group 1 supergroup, but Herta, who has been dominant all weekend, had an attempt to qualify on an alternate strategy go awry.
Herta dominated Group 2 of round one, spending most of the session on the black primary tyres. Pushing hard, he made contact with the wall that damaged the rear tow links, which coupled with leaving it late to switch to alternate red tyres, saw him fall out of the session. Herta will start buried in the field in fourteenth with Rossi behind him in fifteenth.
The final race of the season, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, will take place tomorrow 26 September at 1500 EST / 1200 PST / 2000 BST.
Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Qualifying Results
|RANK||CAR NO.||DRIVER||NAT||TEAM||BEST TIME|
|1||2||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||1:08.224 sec.|
|2||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||1:08.442 sec.|
|3||06||Helio Castroneves||BRA||Meyer Shank Racing||1:08.482 sec.|
|4||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||1:08.651 sec.|
|5||7||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Arrow McLaren SP||1:08.746 sec.|
|6||51||Romain Grosjean (R)||FRA||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing||1:08.757 sec.|
|7||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||1:08.714 sec.|
|8||5||Pato O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||1:08.833 sec.|
|9||18||Ed Jones||UAE||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan||1:08.879 sec.|
|10||10||Alex Palou||ESP||Chip Ganassi Racing||1:08.946 sec.|
|11||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||1:09.133 sec.|
|12||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||1:09.227 sec.|
|13||3||Scott McLaughlin (R)||NZL||Team Penske||1:08.861 sec.|
|14||26||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Autosport||1:09.109 sec.|
|15||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||1:08.994 sec.|
|16||30||Takuma Sato||JPN||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||1:09.381 sec.|
|17||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||1:09.136 sec.|
|18||77||Callum Ilott (R)||GBR||Juncos Hollinger Racing||1:09.436 sec.|
|19||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||1:09.399 sec.|
|20||11||Charlie Kimball||USA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||1:09.679 sec.|
|21||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||1:09.581 sec.|
|22||14||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||1:09.702 sec.|
|23||59||Max Chilton||GBR||Carlin||1:09.752 sec.|
|24||21||Rinus Veekay||NED||Ed Carpenter Racing||1:09.760 sec.|
|25||60||Jack Harvey||GBR||Meyer Shank Racing||1:10.466 sec.|
|26||4||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||1:09.914 sec.|
|27||48||Jimmie Johnson (R)||USA||Chip Ganassi Racing||1:10.512 sec.|
|28||45||Oliver Askew||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||1:10.017 sec.|